Mostly Mozart Festival in New York – David Afkham conducts Brahms – with Vadim Repin & Truls Mørk

Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op.102
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73

Vadim Repin (violin) & Truls Mørk (cello)

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
David Afkham

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 16 August, 2013
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

David Afkham. Photograph: © Felix BroedeThis concert included nothing at all by the Festival’s eponymous composer, but instead was devoted to music by Johannes Brahms. Vadim Repin and Truls Mørk joined the Festival Orchestra and David Afkham in the Double Concerto, and the conductor also led a stirring performance of the Second Symphony.

Brahms never wrote a cello concerto, but in Opus 102 – his final orchestral work – he gives the instrument the dominant solo part, at times reducing the violin to, as it were, second fiddle. Following the brief orchestral introduction, Truls Mørk seized the opportunity to shine with impassioned playing of the cello’s extended opening solo, perhaps deviating just a bit from the instruction to remain strictly in tempo.Truls Mørk. Photograph: Stéphanie de Bourgies & Virgin ClassicsAfter a further orchestral interjection, Vadim Repin entered with his own brief solo, and soon the two were engaged in an ecstatic duet, Mørk’s 1723 Domenico Montagnana ‘Esquire’ instrument and Repin’s Guarneri del Gesù violin from 1743 blending magnificently. Throughout the Allegro, the soloists interacted as if they were partners in a chamber ensemble, and in the Andante they seemed to be having a friendly, even amorous, dialogue, with the violin solos brighter in feeling than the cello’s responses. This sweetly lyrical movement featured fine solos from Lawrence diBello (horn), Jon Manasse (clarinet) and Yoobin Son (flute). The lively finale was imbued with a robust, Gypsy-like spirit. The two harmonized beautifully and bounced thematic material back and forth. Afkham, shaping phrases and maintaining fine balance with the soloists, made the orchestra a sensitive accompanist.

After intermission Afkham took center stage to conduct from memory a fine account of Brahms’s Second Symphony. The young German has a commanding presence on the podium, and his gestures and baton technique drew responsive playing. In the opening movement, the cellos and other low instruments – double basses, bassoons, trombones and tuba – were particularly effective, and there was also fine playing from horns and woodwinds. Cellos and bassoons were also to the fore to open the Adagio, setting a dark tone that contrasted with the first movement’s sunny atmosphere. The opening dance-like theme of the Allegretto was nicely played by oboist Randall Ellis. Afkham infused the finale with impulsive energy, the orchestra following his every lead. Brahms’s scoring has the trombones contributing mightily to the drama, and these musicians and the rest of the brass section were brilliant as the music surged to a glorious finish.

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